Sunday, June 19, 2005

Civilians, Wounded, and Sick

Let's say that you have just finished producing a movie. You submit the movie to the rating board of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The rating board gives the movie an "R" rating. You are angry because this will limit the reach of your movie, particularly since the juvenile humor in the film is targeted toward, well, juveniles. In your anger, you complain that the MPAA has abandoned the rating system.

Would this be a valid complaint? Is it the case that the board has abandoned the G-PG-PG13-R-NC17 system? Or is it just that you disagree with the particular application of the rating system to your case?

Now consider the Geneva Convention. The Geneva Convention covers several categories of people: civilians, wounded, sick, regular armies, "irregular" forces, spies, unlawful combatants, etc. Each one of these categories dictates certain treatment under the various articles of the convention. To complicate matters, there are subcategories. For example, officers and senior enlisted ranks can not be required to perform manual labor as prisoners of war. This particular rule is a large part of the plot of Bridge on the River Kwai, which is based on a true story.

Lawful combatants are granted immunity for their warlike acts. A lawful combatant who kills another belligerent in an international armed conflict is not a murderer. Similarly, capturing and transporting an enemy belligerent is not kidnapping. Prisoner of war status is reserved for those belligerents who are deemed lawful combatants.

The immunity for warlike acts creates a problem for the current crop of complaints about Guantanamo Bay. Some have called for civilian trials for the detainees. Also, there is criticism of the military and the administration for not treating the detainees as prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention. If the detainees are, in fact, POWs, then the civilian trials would be illegitimate. They would have legal immunity for their warlike acts. And they would not need to be repatriated (sent home) until the end of the war. This drumbeat over the Geneva Convention leads to contradictory and absurd results -- being deemed a lawful combatant, but standing trial like a criminal; closing Gitmo and sending the detainees home today, but having to wait until the war is over.

Finally, as in the "R" rated example, above, there is a bizarre claim that the Bush Administration has abandoned the Geneva Convention. This is wrong. The Geneva Convention is being applied as it is written. Applying POW status where it is not indicated would not only create contradicatory and absurd results, it would reward unlawful combatants for their own violation of the Geneva Convention (fighting in civilian clothes, targeting civilians, and so on). Rewarding such behavior can only encourage more of it.

This is a depressing subject. It's enough to make one want to go see Porky's or some other "R" rated movie. Hey, maybe there is hope for your new film!

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